Finding and booking gigs isn’t always easy. So when you do land a gig, it’s important to leave a good impression! Often, finding gigs is about networking and who you know. One poor performance, and you might end up the talk of the town – in a bad way. These 10 tips won't only help you get gigs, but will also help you keep getting them!
1. Start small and work from there
You may not have a star package that you can send to clubs, but every great endeavor starts somewhere. If the only gig you can get at the moment is Grandma’s birthday party, make the most of it! Do the best you can, and see if you can start a fanbase with your friends and relatives.
Keep in mind that promoters and booking agents are interested in one thing only: paying customers. Your initial fanbase can end up being customers at your first paying gig. If you learn that right off the bat, you'll do well.
2. Assemble an online package
So you played Grandma’s birthday party and your Aunt Mavis took some video of a couple of your best songs. The video is pretty decent, and the sound is clear. Now it’s time to start developing an online booking package that promoters can check out.
I’ll say it again because it deserves repeating: promoters and booking agents only care about paying customers. If live music at their event or venue will bring in paying customers, then they want to have you there. So create a package that will demonstrate that to them!
One of the first things you should do is set up an electronic press kit (EPK). Companies like Sonicbids host these for you for free. They're as simple as filling in information about your band and adding media.
I also recommend setting up a blog and YouTube channel to post your info, videos of you performing, and any songs you've recorded. Make sure you have a dedicated “promotion” area on your blog, with press clippings, printable photos (300 dpi at least), info about the size of your draw (how many people came out to see you perform at the last gig), posters, and so on.
Most artists and bands have a social media presence as well. These are all things that everyone is doing these days, but it makes it much easier for the promoter who wants to take out his or her phone, check you out, and then decide if he or she wants to book you.
3. Determine how many people will realistically come to your shows
This is critical. If you know that only three of your best friends will come to hear you perform, then you have some legwork to do. You need to build a buzz within your community. Make everyone excited to come see you perform. Tell them, “I’m trying to get into Bob’s Pizza Parlor, and they want to know that I can bring in 10 paying customers on Tuesday night. Will you be one of my 10?”
Be nice about it. Send them reminders by text. Put it on your Facebook page. Play it up. Then, when you approach Bob’s Pizza Parlor and ask them if you can play there, tell Bob that you know 10 of your closest friends will be coming to hear you perform, and they'll all be paying customers. Bob would be an idiot not to hire you!
Remember, Bob doesn’t care about music. He only wants to know how many pizzas he's going to sell Tuesday night. If you need to, go buy a pizza from Bob some Tuesday, and count how many people come in that night. If you can give him double the amount, then you’re in!
4. Present yourself professionally
I cannot stress how important this step is. If you want to succeed, you have to look like you know what you’re doing. If you show up and speak unintelligibly (maybe because you're nervous, or perhaps because you’re a dork), unless Bob is a family friend, he’s not going to hire you. If you look like someone who will scare away his other customers, Bob is not going to hire you. Be on time, bathe, brush your teeth, and look decent. These things seem to be a lost art these days, but they're important.
When you talk to people on the phone, sound like a human! In person, speak clearly and ask appropriate questions. Make sure you have all the details covered so you don’t look like an idiot at your first gig. Discuss how much Bob is going to pay you, or if you’re playing on a tip-only basis. Overall, you want Bob to tell his friends at the Restaurant Owners Convention about what a joy you were to work with.
5. Show up on time
I mentioned this before, but it deserves to be repeated. Show up on time! Do not be late to your own gig. You don’t know what else Bob has planned for the evening. You don’t know that Bob plans to pay you at 4:00 when you said you were going to show up, but needs to go home to take his wife out for their anniversary dinner at 4:30. And when you show up at 5:00, Bob’s waitress doesn’t know where your pay envelope is.
So guess what? You don’t get paid for that gig. Show up on time or a little bit early. Fifteen minutes early is a good rule.
6. Don't be a jerk, druggie, or drunk
I don’t want to sound like a downer to you, but drugs and alcohol don't make you creative, they just make you dependent. And after a while, your show will suffer, your voice will suffer, and your playing ability will suffer. Hard work, intelligent plans, and good luck will be there for the ones who put in the effort. (Gosh, now I’m sounding like a fortune cookie!)
7. Put on a good show
This goes without saying. Don’t just practice your songs, practice your show! Figure out everything you think could go wrong and have a backup plan, and then get someone on your team to be the go-to person to fix those problems. If you put on a good show, people will remember.
And here’s your chance to build your fanbase, so you have more to offer the next venue! Get a friend to be in charge of your mailing list and encourage people watching to join, so they will know when you're playing next. If you can, ask another friend to take video or photos at the show. If you have press contacts, invite them! That way, you’ll get more material for your blog.
8. Thank the management with a card later
Bob will want to know if you were happy playing in his place. Thank him by sending him a card or calling him. Who knows? Maybe you brought in so many people that Bob will hire you back every Tuesday.
My first gig was acquired for me by one of my teachers. I brought her a dozen white roses the next morning at school. She never had a student do that for her. Be a nice person; it goes a long way!
9. Update your website
After your show, get your videos and photos from your friend, and check in with the press people you invited. If they added anything about your show to their blog or website, link it to your promotion section. Remember to update your mailing list with any new signups.
10. Look for bigger gigs further away from Bob’s Pizza Parlor
Bob’s was a fun gig, but now you have some press, word of mouth, and videos to show other venues. Try to find a gig at a local club or theater. Develop your show. Practice and see if you can find another gig.
Let me say it again: develop your show. People want to be entertained, not just listen to you sing your favorite songs. When you have a few gigs under your belt, start looking for gigs a little further away from home, and network with other musicians from other towns. Find musicians who are similar to you, and see if you can do some cross-promotion. Go to their shows and ask them to come to yours. Maybe you can do a gig together!
I hope those tips help you get started in the wonderful and exciting world of gigging. It's a lot of hard work, but it'll pay off in the long run!
Willy Minnix is a guitar teacher with TakeLessons, the largest online marketplace for connecting music teachers and students for in-person or online lessons. Willy teaches in Winston Salem, NC, and has been teaching and performing for more than a decade. Learn more about teaching or learning with TakeLessons, or check out other articles and guides on the TakeLessons Blog.